Our boat. Worthy of a blog entry all her own. Last year during our visit to Peru, the Nenita was out of commission, awaiting a motor held up in customs too long to be installed before our trip downriver. To be honest, I was beyond disappointed, as an overnight trip on the Amazon is something out of my dreams. We traveled on the Maikai, a speedboat that took us to the Madre Selva field station in four short hours. The boat ride was enjoyable, but nothing compared to being carried along the river by the lovely Nenita.
We took the skiff to the Nenita, which was anchored downriver a few miles, waiting for us in freshly painted splendor. On the first floor are cabins, each with two bunks, a bathroom, a small kitchen, and deck space. On the second floor more cabins, a wonderful dining room with a big round table, and lots of deck space with chairs and hammocks in which to settle and watch the scenery slip by. Chugging down the Amazon River on the Nenita, life is but a dream.
I’ve noticed a somewhat strange and beautiful phenomenon in the jungle. In the rainy season, the sky is often filled with grey clouds, especially during the nights when the falling rain is a background for lovely, dreamy sleep. But in lucky moments, the clouds open, forming a window into the universe beyond. The view through this window is indescribably beautiful. Few places on earth will you find such a perfect view of the night sky, where even the farthest stars and planets shine so brightly it takes your breath away. On these jungle nights, when I look to the heavens and find that the window is open – that the clouds have broken to allow me to admire some of this night sky – I feel that life is a fairy tale.
The Amazon rain forest teems with life – a staggering diversity of flora and fauna. But as we learned from Shauna’s research on black market animal trading, not everyone understands or appreciates the need to protect the organisms that live here. Last year we visited the manatee rescue and rehabilitation center (Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana) and learned about how manatees are killed for meat and traded live, often leaving orphan babies. The lucky ones end up at this place, where they are lovingly cared for by the Institute staff until they are ready to go back into the wild.
Yesterday during our visit to the river port town of Bellavista, we were offered a boat tour with a stop at an animal conservation center. We were so happy that we accepted, because the boat ride and destination were a pure delight. The Centro De Custodia Temporal De Fauna is a temporary home to a variety of critters that have been dropped there by police that have confiscated the animals or individuals that have somehow come by animals that need medical care due to injury. While there are cages, most are open and the residents have a bit of freedom to move about. This day, we were introduced to sloths (cutest dang animals ever!), gorgeous parrots, anacondas, enormous turtles, ocelots (male and pregnant female!), and monkeys. We were allowed to cuddle a little bit with the sloths and snakes (photos say it all). It is encouraging to see people doing such work – caring for these creatures and raising awareness about the need for rain forest species conservation.
Iquitos features lovely old architecture and dozens of different designs of beautiful tile – remnants of the rubber boom (1890′s to 1930′s), when money poured into the city. Now, many of these grand old buildings are in various states of disrepair, but their beauty can still be admired and appreciated. The tile was imported from Portugal and has proven incredibly durable, much of it still perfect after all this time.
Good Morning, Peru.
I wish I could adequately describe the feeling of Iquitos: wonderful (and some not so wonderful) smells and sounds; once gorgeous, but now crumbling, architecture (reminders of the prosperous rubber era); entire families zipping around on Honda scooters; and the warm, soft, air that you practically have to wade through.
When you wake up and are still barely conscious, you quickly realize by the sounds you hear that you are not at home. Even in the city of Iquitos, the critters fill the air with exotic sounds. Even the seriously committed rooster sounds different than our roosters back home. These sounds are somehow comforting and sweet, and make waking up here a distinctly pleasurable experience.
My first thought upon waking was that it is Saturday and at home I would be at the Community Farmers Market, stocking up on menu items for the coming week. To get my market fix, I headed to the Belen Market after breakfast with John and Beverly. Much of what is there is completely unfamiliar to me, and I would have no idea how to prepare it for a meal. It can be a bit traumatic for a vegetarian – we see lots of meat, including fresh water fish, whole chickens (some dead, some alive), turtles, and goat (complete with hooves). The herbs and grains are beautiful, and there are piles of huge limes, pineapples, and avocado that look like heaven to me. A walk through the market is a roller coaster of scents – at one moment it smells good and spicy, the next barely tolerable. The path through the stalls is narrow, and it is extremely important to watch where you step, as mud, garbage, rotten food, blood, and all manner of other things cover the ground. When a vendor accidentally splashed my legs with this muck as he was sweeping his stall I managed to maintain my cool exterior, but on the inside I was freaking out. Guess what? I survived. And, I can’t wait to go back again.
Today was all play, but tomorrow we begin our “City as Text” exercise, with intentional exploration and observation of special places in and near Iquitos. More on that later. It’s time for bed and I can’t wait for morning to come.
Today is December 23rd and in four days I return to Peru. This year we will spend time in the incredible city of Iquitos (can’t wait to visit the Belen market); we will float downriver on the Nenita to the Amazon tributary the Rio Orosa, where we will spend time at the Project Amazonas biological field station working, learning, and visiting friends; and we will then head upland, to the magical Machu Picchu. I’ll keep you posted with stories and photos as time and technology allow.